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MLS, U.S. Soccer announce eight-year TV deal with ESPN, Fox, Univision

Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley U.S. captain Clint Dempsey, right, and Michael Bradley, left, will have their club and country matches aired on ESPN, Fox and Univision starting next year. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Major League Soccer and the United States Soccer Federation are teaming up with ESPN, Fox and Univision to televise American soccer for the next eight years. In conjunction with U.S. Soccer on Monday, the league announced the new deals, which take over for contracts expiring at the end of the 2014 season.

“The commitment from our television partners in terms of structure, length and magnitude is unprecedented, and these new partnerships are another strong indicator of the league’s continued growth and the overall fan interest in our sport,” commissioner Don Garber said in a press release. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati made similar comments.

The new deal marks a return for dedicated broadcasting windows on each network. Univisión, primarily through new channel UniMás, will broadcast at 7 or 11 p.m. ET on Fridays. ESPN and Fox Sports 1 will go back-to-back on Sunday matches at 5 and 7 p.m. ET, respectively. (Canadian channel TSN, partly owned by ESPN, has a deal that runs through 2016.)

All three networks have committed to showing a minimum of 34 regular-season games in their dedicated windows. As the only Spanish-language network in the deal, Univisión receives exclusive access to the MLS All-Star Game, MLS Cup final and all United States men’s national team games. ESPN and Fox will alternate airing the All-Star Game and playoff final, and they will share national team matches.

ESPN is also taking over MLS’s out-of-market package that the league currently maintains as part of its MLS Live service. The games will be available on ESPN3 and feature more than 200 matches per year.

The new deal is worth an average of $90 million a year for MLS and U.S. Soccer, according to SportsBusiness Journal. That figure is five times the amount of the league’s current media deals, but it’s unclear how the league and federation will split the revenue.

Shut out of the deal is NBC Sports, which bought exclusive rights to the English Premier League for three years beginning with the 2013-14 season. NBC showed several men’s and women’s national team games in the past year, as well as beating out Fox in the last negotiations for MLS rights.

“We've enjoyed our partnership with MLS,” reads an NBC statement from January, when the network announced it was pulling out of the ongoing negotiations with the league. “Don Garber and his team are building something very positive, and we wish them well.”
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